Intrinsic Motivation in the Workplace: Factors & Examples

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Shawn Grimsley

Intrinsic motivation is an essential management concept. In this lesson, you'll learn what intrinsic motivation is and some of its key concepts, illustrated by an example. A short quiz will follow the lesson.

We also recommend watching Alderfer's ERG Theory & Employee Motivation in the Workplace and Herzberg's Two-Factor Theory: Hygiene Factors & Motivation

Why Is It Important?

Intrinsic motivation is an important means of motivating employees. It is often more effective than extrinsic motivation, which is often based upon rewards and punishments. Knowing how to effectively use intrinsic motivation will help make your employees more effective and increase their job satisfaction at the same time.

Definition

Intrinsic motivation occurs when a person finds a task interesting and derives satisfaction from performing it. The motivation comes from within you rather than being imposed upon you by external forces such as rewards or punishments.

Key Conceptual Factors

Psychologists argue you can only be completely effective if you feel autonomous and competent. In other words, you will only be intrinsically motivated if you feel you are competent at the task and have autonomy, or control, over it. A third component necessary for intrinsic motivation is having satisfying relationships with others at work.

Researchers have found the following techniques can help establish intrinsic motivation:

  • acknowledging employee perspectives
  • offering choices
  • encouraging initiative
  • giving meaningful feedback

Example

Let's say you are an office manager at a law firm who supervises all administrative assistants and legal secretaries at the firm. The managing partner of the firm has told you that the partnership has decided to take all of its files completely digital and places you in charge of the transition. You pick members of the staff that you know have an interest in technology, will be interested in the project and learning new skills. You meet with your team and ask the team members for their perspectives on how best to accomplish the transition. Some of the ideas are good and you acknowledge the insights and adopt the suggestions. The team develops a timeline and a set of distinct tasks to perform. You then provide the teammates an opportunity to select who will perform each task. You hold daily meetings with your team to provide positive feedback on project progression and to provide them with any new information from the law partners. You have effectively increased the likelihood of intrinsic motivation by developing an environment of autonomy, competence and good team relations.

Summary

Intrinsic motivation occurs when you are motivated to perform a task because you feel competent to perform it and derive satisfaction in doing so. In order to facilitate intrinsic motivation, you should develop a work environment where employees feel they have control (autonomy) over their work, feel competent in performing the task, and are able to engage in satisfying work relationships. Tools available to you include acknowledging employee perspectives, offering employees choices, and encouraging initiative.

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